Review: Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey (PS4/PSV/PSTV)

Formats:

  • PlayStation 4
  • PlayStation Vita
  • PC

Format/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro / Vita
  • HDTV

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
  • PlayStation TV Compatible Yes
  • Cross-Buy No
  • Cross-Save Yes
  • Cross-Play No
  • Cross-Chat No
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Title: Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (PS4 18 GB) (PSV 2.7 GB)
Release Date: March 7, 2017
Publisher: Tecmo KOEI
Developer: Gust Co., Ltd.
Original MSRP: $59.99 (PS4), $39.99 (PSV)
ESRB Rating: T
PEGI: 12
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

The Atelier series is back with a new installment: Atelier Firis The Alchemist of the Mysterious Journey. As the name would imply, the game is all about Firis and her journey, a theme that twists the Atelier formula in some small but interesting ways.

Firis is just a small-town girl living in an underground mining village. She is curious and outgoing but due to the dangers of the outside world, her parents refuse to let her leave the village. She has been living there her whole life and longs to see the endless blue skies.

When an alchemist named Sophie comes to the village, Firis takes an interest in alchemy as a way to learn to protect herself and explore the outside world.

Her parents finally agree to let her leave but only for a limited time and on the condition that she take and pass the alchemist exam. With their blessing she sets forth on a journey going anywhere.

Atelier Firis is part of the same sub-series of Atelier games as Atelier Sophie, as Sophie’s presence in the game suggests. The story is standalone though, so playing Atelier Sophie first is not required. Though there are a few returning characters, they only really make passing references to the events of Sophie’s game.

Gameplay:
Atelier Firis takes the normal Atelier series gameplay elements and adds an element of exploration and “journey” to them. Alchemy and gathering are here of course but this one also brings back the time management aspects that Atelier Sophie lacked, though only in the beginning of the game.

The thing that most facilitated the feeling of a journey is the way the game handles the exploration, especially in comparison to previous installments in the series.

In the past few games, traveling was mostly by way of a world map, just a 2D representation of the world with nodes for each area. Individual areas were relatively small and were unconnected, using travel on the world map as the connective tissue.

… Being all connected can make it a chore to backtrack …
This game opens up the areas to be much larger and open and the individual areas are all directly connected to one another. While not on the level of a truly large open world game as it’s not completely open and continuous, this is a pretty nice step up for the series.

Each individual area is well designed with plenty of area to explore, large enough that the game offers quick travel options on the map. Cresting a hill into the orchards and windmills on the outskirts of a rural town really gave me the feeling that I was journeying and exploring right alongside Firis.

Caves and small dungeons dot the world for spelunking and some of the smaller towns are incorporated right into the wilderness while larger cities are sequestered into their own areas.

Being all connected can make it a chore to backtrack to older areas when needed as fast-travel only works within the current map but that’s a relatively minor complaint. And late into the game, players can create some faster travel options, and eventually one that allows warping to any area.

While exploring, Firis can of course gather materials for alchemy and fight enemy monsters. Certain plants and locations will glow, indicating the ability to gather there while monsters roam the maps freely to be avoided or fought at will.

Gathering a variety of materials, or getting them from defeated monsters, is a big part of exploring and helps play into the other aspects of the game.

… the game is relatively lenient with time …
Thanks to a dynamic day/night and weather system, Firis may occasionally find herself standing in freezing rain. While not quite as robust as something like Horizon Zero Dawn, the day/night cycles and weather add to the exploration as materials and monsters are affected by the weather and time.

At times it may be advantageous to stay out all night, all night, ooh every night to fight certain monsters that only come out at night, for example.

Unlike past Atelier games with time management, the systems in Atelier Firis are more omnipresent. Probably due to the lack of a world map, which was how time moved when traveling in past games, time now passes even from moving around in the world as shown by the wheel in the sky that keeps on turning.

Crossing from one side of an area to another can sometimes take several in-game days. Gathering and alchemy also move time in set intervals, per series norms.

Fortunately, the game is relatively lenient with time. In her home town, Firis has a time limit of a month for only a few tasks at the start. And once moving into the outside world, she has a full year to attempt the alchemy exam, something I was ready to take after only about a third that time, but which I ignored to do side content.

Time management is one of the more divisive mechanics of the series, but I personally like it as a way to help the otherwise meandering nature of the games. After passing the alchemy exam, Firis no longer has a time limit and the time management aspects go away, so Atelier Firis gives a taste of both for those who want to go explore the game in depth.

… alchemy is pretty robust this time around …
Alchemy is the calling card of the series, with a wide range of options to allow players to make an item any way they want it. I often liken the Atelier alchemy systems to a mini-puzzle game, but not one where there is a single solution.

Rather, the player has to juggle various criteria and possible results sometimes deciding what solution they want and then seeing if it is possible to attain it. Though I’m sure guides will eventually outline the best possible items and equipment, I love the series for the ability to explore the alchemy and that very much plays into the themes of Atelier Firis.

The alchemy is pretty robust this time around, with the addition of catalysts to some of the normal series systems. Materials added to a formula are placed on a grid and catalysts change the grid used, which changes the bonuses that the player can get in the synthesization process.

It’s not a huge system, ultimately it’s not all that different to how cauldrons worked in Atelier Sophie, but I did enjoy some of the additional decisions it added to the game.

One small complaint though, all of the Atelier games I’ve played have had the ability to transfer traits from materials into the resultant item. Usually up to three traits can be selected and the player has this ability either from the get-go or after reaching a certain alchemy level.

Atelier Firis, however, turns this into a bonus that must be unlocked through catalysts or by making the same item over and over again. This makes it a lot tougher to get traits transferred over, especially the full three, which I feel hampers the alchemy.

… combat is decent but far from my favorite among the Atelier games …
There’s also a “mass alchemy” system that I didn’t care for. These recipes call for a ton of materials, more than I had on hand a few times, meaning I had to go spend what seemed like forever gathering. Fortunately there are only a few of these recipes and they’re only needed a couple of times for major story events.

An interesting way that Atelier Firis approaches the alchemy though, is that Firis is not tied to a single location to perform it. Past games had one, sometimes two or three, atelier that the protagonist had to return to synthesize items.

Firis, however, has a portable atelier she can set up in predetermined locations any time that she wants to. Again, this ties into the exploration and journey theme of the game by not requiring the player to return to some central location over and over again.

No JRPG would be a JRPG without some kind of combat and Atelier Firis throws some at the player too. Fights are a pretty basic turn-based system with a couple small additions. One is a bar that fills up during the fight that can be used either to let characters protect Firis in combat or to perform combos once it has fully filled. The combat is decent but far from my favorite among the Atelier games or turn-based games in general.

One of my favorite aspects of the game is how it handles alchemy formulas to tie into the journey. As Firis explores and does things, she can obtain new alchemy ideas. These can come from any of a variety of places: fighting certain enemies, gathering items, even some quest lines.

This is similar to how they worked in Atelier Sophie but a lot more organic. The only downside is that on occasion I found myself without a recipe for an item I needed, though usually it would come eventually. There are some purchasable recipe books that make it possible to get those formulas without hunting down their trigger.

… a mid-tier JRPG with a budget to match …
Visuals:
On the PS4, Atelier Firis is good looking game for its mid-tier JRPG roots. The larger and more open areas are a joy to explore with the day/night cycles and weather systems adding in some flavor.

The areas are varied enough to be interesting while remaining cohesive. The towns in particular are finally large enough with enough loitering NPCs to actually feel like towns and cities rather than just portions of.

It’s still a mid-tier JRPG with a budget to match so don’t expect too much. The game covers some of its lack of technical prowess with great aesthetics but a decent amount of copy-pasted NPCs or the occasionally stilted animations do show through sometimes.

Vita version screenshots

Overall though, it looks pretty good. Note, I was playing on PS4 Pro and according to the game’s store page and the game case, it has PS4 Pro enhancements. I researched a little to see what they were but couldn’t find anything definitive. I believe it just uses the Pro to stabilize the framerate.

Of course, one side effect of the larger areas is that the Vita takes a huge hit. Almost every aspect of the visuals has been downgraded to fit the game on the handheld: lower quality textures, lower count polygon models, fewer shadows, and a vastly inferior framerate.

I never found the game unplayable on the handheld but going between the two versions was certainly a jump. The Vita version also crashed on me multiple times while on PS4 it only happened once, and I played a lot more on PS4 than Vita.

… a high point of the last few games and well worth checking out …
Audio:
The music is pretty strong, with some individually great songs but an even better cohesively whole soundtrack. The composers really like to use themes to tie together related tracks, for example the music that plays in an area during the day versus at night.

There are even some thematic ties to tracks from Atelier Sophie where appropriate, as I found out from reading the composer’s comments on each song in the game’s in-game jukebox.

Voices come in both English and Japanese, like usual, and both are good. The Japanese is included on the disk this time, so no need for futzing around with DLC to get it.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is singleplayer only with no online component.

Same position in both PS4 and Vita versions

Conclusion:
The focus for Atelier Firis is definitely the journey (and not the band I made several silly references to) and I like how the game works on that focus.

Having a clear cut goal early on also helps cut down on the meandering nature of the Atelier games by giving the player something tangible to work towards. After that goal is done, the second half is less focused but by then I had been hooked by the characters and gameplay.

As always, the alchemy was a joy to explore as well. I had my issues with it, mostly the stuff with the traits and the mass synthesis, but overall I liked messing around with it.

By the end of the game I had some crazy over-powered bombs that delayed the enemy’s actions and let me glide through boss fights. Knowing I had made it there through my own actions of synthesizing the right way made it feel like I had earned the ability to wreck the boss.

I still think the Atelier series overall is an underrated gem though it isn’t for everyone, as it’s very laid back and unassuming. Atelier Firis is a pretty good point to jump in though.

The game providing a time limit in the early parts per series roots but removing it for the end gives a good middle ground for the contested mechanic. The rest of the things I love the series for are present here, making Atelier Firis one of the better Atelier games. It’s certainly a high point of the last few games and well worth checking out.

Score:
8.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Vita’s built in screen capture feature and the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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Written by Andy Richardson

Andy Richardson

A longtime PlayStation fan who enjoys JRPGs and rhythm games when he’s not tweeting about his parrot.

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